Football is a cruel mistress. When the board went up yesterday for an inexplicable five minutes of stoppage time, I felt I’d be enjoying my protracted 40th birthday celebrations with a fine Imps win followed by a vodka chaser. Or six.
That late Jacob Mellis strike knocked the wind out of our sails and the feeling walking away from the ground was one of deflation. We’d thrown away three points, or that is how it felt. In the ground, the vociferous cheers from Mansfield supporters made me wonder if they’d perhaps won some silverware I hadn’t been aware of.
Such is football, the visiting side had the elation of the late goal inside them, we had a feeling of defeat, despite the draw. It is only with the passing of time and a Stevenage win that things become clear. In truth, we had more to celebrate than David Flitcroft’s side as we remained five points ahead of them. I said it before the game and I’ll stand by it now; a draw was a decent result for us. it wasn’t the preferable result, of course I wanted us to win, anyone suggesting otherwise is deluded, but I called a 1-1 draw and I’m happy with it. Ben Kennedy’s goal helped of course.
Anyway, before all the late drama and inevitable shenanigans at the final whistle, there was a football match, a local derby / rivalry / whatever. It’s the first time this season we’ve seen the ground with a decent away following in one end, with the pre-match atmosphere ramped right up. I was pleasantly surprised to find the High Street very low on police in the morning, Wetherspoons had a few dubious looking characters in it, but the boys in blue had a low-key presence. There’s no need to antagonise the atmosphere with lots of visible police, but they were there, in the background. From what I’ve heard there was no trouble either, happy to be corrected of course. Last year I recall some clashes after the game, but hopefully things passed off peacefully yesterday.
There was little surprise in the team selection, Neal Eardley coming back was a big boost and it was pretty much business as usual in the starting XI. It’s sad to see Freck still struggling, but in Tom Pett we have a more than adequate deputy.
I felt the first half was a huge anti-climax. There had been lots of build up, lots of talk about the size of the game and how the teams were evenly matched, plenty of tactical analysis and speculation but what we got was 45 minutes of football few will remember with any fondness. That isn’t to say either side were playing badly, but we definitely cancelled each other out and my thought was that the visitors were the only side who would score.
We had a chance or two, Bruno looked to catch Bobby Olejnik out of his goal but scooped a decent effort wide, but credit to John Akinde who harassed the keeper into slicing in to Bruno. At the other end Josh Vickers made a decent save too, but there’s not a fan on either side who will be petitioning the club for a highlights package from the first 45 minutes.
I felt John Akinde was having a good half and Chris from Running Imp agreed. He’s not sold on big John as I am, so to hear him say he’d played well means he must have. I know there was the inevitable negative feedback on social media for him after the game, but in my opinion it is unwarranted. I did see a post claiming he’s not scoring enough for a lone striker, but his role isn’t simply front man getting on the end of things. He’s working hard to get the ball, then make things happen. He looked isolated, but is that his fault? No.
I thought Tom Pett had a strong first half too, both Bozzy and Shackell at the back looked as solid as ever. I’d been worried about Tyler Walker before the game and threatened with the pace of CJ Hamilton on the radio, but I thought both were thoroughly underwhelming. If I had to praise the visitors, which I do, I’d say their back three are as good as any defence we’ve seen this season, MK Dons included. I also liked Neil Bishop in the middle of the park, he was commanding, hard-working and showed his experience whenever he got on the ball.
There was some criticism of the referee and before I go any further I’d like to clarify; a retweet on Twitter is not an endorsement from me. My podcast colleague Ben felt the ref was having a poor game and I retweeted it for comment, not because I necessarily agreed, so the Mansfield fan who DM’d me might like to rethink his words. I didn’t think Gavin Ward was having a brilliant game, but given the magnitude of the occasion and the commitment from both sides, he was keeping a lid on things. I heard plenty of comment about how things could explode on the pitch, but he did a good job keeping everyone in check. There will always be the odd decision we criticise or disagree with, that’s football. He got nothing major wrong for me, he rightly admonished Danny for his touchline antics but he did seem to have a rapport with the players. I saw him sharing a joke with Neal Eardley at one point, a sign of a calm and approachable referee.
The D3D4 podcast guys had come to the game and they felt it was a committed first half between two good sides. I felt it was tepid at best, even in the stands. The early efforts of our boys to get the atmosphere ramped up seemed to die away with the pace of the game and the Stags fans, from where I was sitting, were on some sort of silence vow. I feel that a big away following can be more important than three or four times as many home fans, 1,600 all pumped up and signing is often better than 1,000 or so vocal home fans and the other 7,000 joining in occasionally. Not yesterday, not in the first half.
Next Page – A real game of two halves